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Brazilian football legend Pelé dead at 82

SAO PAULO (AFP) – Brazilian football icon Pelé, a three-time World Cup winner who is widely regarded as the greatest player of all time, died on Thursday at the age of 82 – triggering a wave of tributes from the sports world and beyond.

His death after a long battle with cancer was caused by “multiple organ failure”, the Albert Einstein hospital in Sao Paulo said in a statement, confirming the news from the legend’s family. “We love you infinitely. Rest in peace,” daughter Kely Nascimento wrote on Instagram.

The football world – from his former teammates to current stars – came together to honour “O Rei” (The King), who transformed the sport during a long professional career that began when he was still a teenager.

Brazil star Neymar said Pelé “transformed football into an art”, France’s Kylian Mbappe said his legacy “will never be forgotten”, and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo called him an “inspiration to millions”.

Argentina’s World Cup-winning captain Lionel Messi simply wrote: “Rest in peace”.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro declared three days of national mourning, while president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is due to take office tomorrow, tweeted: “Thank you, Pelé”.

Pelé is the only footballer in history to have won three World Cups – in 1958, 1962 and 1970.

He scored a world record 1,281 goals in 1,363 matches during a 21-year career.

He had been in increasingly fragile health, battling kidney problems and colon cancer – undergoing surgery for the latter in September 2021, followed by chemotherapy.

A wake will take place tomorrow, followed by a funeral on Tuesday in Santos, the southeastern city where he played most of his career, his former club said.

The city declared seven days of mourning, as fans flocked to the team’s stadium to leave flowers. 

Tents set up at the Vila Belmiro stadium, where football legend Pelé played most of his career, in Santos, Brazil. PHOTO: AP
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